Providing Contactless Services: What We’ve Learned and the Road Ahead
Most of us were off-guard when our region underwent lockdown due to COVID-19. In the next several newsletters, I’ll offer information and advice on how we can improve our existing business situation and be more prepared for the future while being productive working remotely. Most organizations today use online portals for emergency news and information, as well as file sharing and online collaboration. However, many organizations have just begun to use video to keep their employees engaged beyond conference calls, email, and chat apps.
Working from home can either be a negative or positive experience for employees and contractors, according to researchers who wrote the New York Times Bestseller, Primed to Perform. Establishing a productive and positive work environment for remote employees is key to keeping business operations running smoothly, yet motivating people is also critical for a successful workforce.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, the authors of “Primed to Perform” wrote that they identified three positive motivators in their research leading to increased work performance. These include Play, a motivating factor that most boosts performance; Purpose, from employee visibility into their work impact on clients or colleagues; and Potential, illustrating the need for employees to have access to colleagues for knowledge and career development.
Motivating employees means establishing virtual work environments so that they include the critical attributes of play, purpose, and potential. While this involves more than just deploying a few cloud apps that facilitate video conferencing and chat combined with secure mobile device access, the question is, what are the requirements for a productive and positive remote workforce?
Record Video Collaboration Use
Microsoft Teams, the online collaboration platform, saw total usage during April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 crisis set a new daily record of 2.7 billion meeting minutes in one day, a 200 percent increase from 900 million minutes set on March 16th. Students and teachers turning to the online video collaboration platform for distance learning also established 183,000 tenants in 175 countries using Teams for Education.
Research from Microsoft finds that establishing a human connection and having “fun” using portal technologies such as Teams requires not only the use of basic video but also includes implementing custom backgrounds. Additional features are the “background” blur option to block out unwanted distractions and the ability to end a meeting in “one click.” New Teams features will include the ability for users to virtually “raise a hand” and AI-enabled real-time noise-canceling to inspire even more engagement when working remotely.
Microsoft also tells its employees to think of Teams as a virtual office and encourages them to hold every call and meeting on Teams. The same is true for Slack users and other video conferencing platforms that integrate with productivity applications such as Zoom, Skype, WebEx, and Google Hangouts.
Online Collaboration Best Practices
Additional best practices for online collaboration that engages employees include saving files to the cloud to coauthor documents with multiple stakeholders. Storing individual documents and drafts in a secure cloud file share is essential from a security perspective while providing users with the ability to grant external private document access to colleagues. Moreover, users should share links to cloud-hosted documents versus sending attachments in an email to make sure that work colleagues are using the latest version of a document.
When using platforms such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, encouraging employees to use channels as opposed to email or group chat for team-level conversations and using the camera for video during meetings also promotes productivity. Connecting online does not always mean live events with tens or hundreds of participants, either. Microsoft encourages its employees to conduct “informal coffee breaks” online in Teams channels, for instance.
As the country shifts to remote work as an option as viable as going to a physical office or workplace, embracing new cloud-hosted and delivered tools and technologies are critical for business continuity.
Many resources exist online to help organizations make the shift to online video and collaboration platforms as well as educate users on getting the most out of these evolving technologies. Enabling a remote workforce ranges from ensuring secure remote access for mobile workers on the road and at home to effective collaboration strategies. To get started, Microsoft has provided a checklist for remote work preparedness and a comprehensive work-from-home guide based on their key learnings from the past few months.